Using Social Media to Build Community: As with Other Library Services, It Is Important to Be Intentional in Your Approach and Proactive in Your Evaluation of Social Media Activities

By Rossmann, Doralyn; Young, Scott W. H. | Computers in Libraries, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Using Social Media to Build Community: As with Other Library Services, It Is Important to Be Intentional in Your Approach and Proactive in Your Evaluation of Social Media Activities


Rossmann, Doralyn, Young, Scott W. H., Computers in Libraries


THE QUESTION OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN LIBRARIES IS NO LONGER "SHOULD?" BUT "HOW?" Pew Research Center recently released a yearly update to its social media survey (pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/social-media-update2014). It's no surprise that results indicate an increasing usage of social media across demographic categories: 52% of all adults online used multiple social media sites in 2014, up from 42% in 2013. Pew studied five leading sites--Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter--to demonstrate that social media use is growing both in total number of users and frequency of use. Such survey results reaffirm what many of us experience: Social media has become an essential communication channel.

As librarians, we view this national survey data and ask, "What is the role of the library with social media?" In responding to this question, we (at the Montana State University Library) asked a primary user group--students--what they thought of the library and social media. We organized student focus groups around the topic of current use and expectations of social media. We wanted to learn what our students expected from libraries on major social networks. One student remarked, "Organizations are sort of notoriously bland on their social media." Another student told us, "If you have a Twitter account, you have to give people a reason to follow you." We took this advice and asked ourselves, "How can we avoid blandness? What interesting aspects can we provide as reasons people would join us on social media?"

After asking our students, we then consulted the library and information science literature. In Computers in Libraries last October, Hofschire and Wanucha (2014) discussed a survey of social media adoption in public libraries: "results suggest that social media ... will continue to grow, although the ways in which these technologies will be implemented are uncertain." There is a rich conversation around the implementation and use of social media in libraries. Li and Li (2013) identified the marketing of library resources as "the most notable achievement of many libraries that have adopted social media...." Likewise, Sachs (2011) found that promotion and marketing was the only truly successful use of social media for her university library.

While both marketing and promotion represent primary goals of social media, Blakeman and Brown (2010) recognize that marketing on social media can achieve an even higher goal: building your community. A more recent study from Oh (2014) found that a sense of community --developed through social media--was positively associated with the life satisfaction of adult research participants. Taken together, the literature we read pointed us in the direction of outreach and community-building--the effects of which could have far-reaching benefits for us and our library patrons.

After listening to our users and observing the direction of our literature, we identified one central goal and two key strategies for our social media: Fundamentally, we aimed to build a sense of community for our users, and we would employ strategies of personality and interactivity. People would follow us because we would bring an authentic sense of personality to our regular social media posts and interactions. From there, we would build a valuable and rewarding sense of connection and community together with our users. We identified an opportunity--expressed by our students and hinted at in the literature--to create a genuine, multifaceted personality that could be effective in engaging a target community of social media users.

Once we had determined our central goal and supporting methods, we needed to form an advisory group to coordinate, strategize, and monitor our social media activities. In May 2012, we created the Social Media Group (lib.montana.edu/about/social-media). This small committee--comprising three librarians and a library staff member--was tasked with providing direction, structure, and purpose for the library's social media activity. …

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